Top Five: Charles Leggett


Writing-Related Top Five

—James Merrill: “You hardly ever need to state your feelings. The point is to feel and keep the eyes open. Then what you feel is expressed, is mimed back at you by the scene. A room, a landscape. I’d go a step further. We don’t know what we feel until we see it distanced by this kind of translation.”

—Merrill, having read Wallace Stevens’ “Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour” aloud on camera in the VOICES AND VISIONS documentary segment on Stevens, after a moment of seeming speechlessness, then a brief burst of laughter, saying, “Sometimes I feel about this poem the way other people feel about the 23rd Psalm.”

—Flaubert’s remark that the three requirements for happiness are stupidity, selfishness and good health, but that without stupidity, the other two are useless.

—Proust: that to find “The greatness…of true art…we have to rediscover…that reality, remote from our daily preoccupations, from which we separate ourselves by an even greater gulf as the conventional knowledge which we substitute for it grows thicker and more impermeable, that reality which it is very easy for us to die without ever having known and which is, quite simply, our life. Real life, life at last laid bare and illuminated—the only life in consequence which can be said to be really lived—is literature…But most men do not see it because they do not seek to shed light upon it. And therefore their past is like a photographic dark-room encumbered with innumerable negatives which remain useless because the intellect has not developed them.”

—Stéphane Mallarmé, in a letter, “Instructions for dealing with my papers,” scribbled in pencil to his wife and daughter the night before he died, having sternly instructed them to burn the lot, wrote, “…you, my poor prostrate creatures, the only people in the world capable of respecting to such an extent the whole life’s work of a sincere artist, believe me when I say that it was all going to be so beautiful.”

— Charles Leggett


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